A Penn Hills Elementary School hallway. (Photo by Oliver Morrison/PublicSource)
Pennsylvania’s acting state education secretary, Khalid Mumin, has served in some of the state’s wealthiest and poorest districts. Most recently, he served as the superintendent of the Lower Merion School District in southeastern Pennsylvania, after seven years leading the Reading School District, one of the neediest in the state.
Dr. Khalid N. Mumin has been nominated to the post of Secretary of Education by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (Photo courtesy: Pennsylvania Department of Education)
On the other side of the state, PublicSource spoke to five local educators and advocates about the state of education in the region and their expectations from the acting education secretary, who awaits confirmation by the state Senate. While they expressed hope and excitement about the new leadership, they also expressed concerns about education at the local level.
PublicSource made multiple attempts since Jan.18 to schedule an interview with Mumin but the Department of Education did not make him available, saying his schedule was reserved for meetings with legislators. PublicSource also sent questions via email but the department declined to answer them.
If the acting secretary comes to Western Pennsylvania, he is likely to hear advocacy for full-service “community schools,” consolidation of districts and even adoption by public schools of innovations found in charters.
Here are some issues and questions that the educators and advocates would like the acting education secretary to address.
How do we bring innovation to our schools?
LaTrenda Sherrill, one of the founding members of Black Women for a Better Education, said there are many opportunities in the region for workforce development and STEM education. She said some charter school models could be transitioned into traditional public schools as pockets of innovation.
“There is an opportunity for us to ensure that there are more young people succeeding at high levels if we’re able to learn from a lot of this innovation and connect a little bit more with what’s happening across districts.”
Sherrill said the state needs to be more inclusive of the community and elevate its grant opportunities to engage parents. She recommends that the state build upon Gov. Tom Wolf’s Middle-Class Task Force to create workforce development opportunities for students. She said initiatives and investments such as the PAsmart grants will allow districts flexibility to be innovative.
Jamie Baxter, executive director of Allies for Children, said the state should make it their top priority to innovate and support children with mental health struggles, prepare them for careers in high demand, invest in high-quality early childhood programs and ensure that all community partners are working together.
James Fogarty, executive director of the advocacy group A+ Schools said the state should consider consolidation among the state’s 500 school districts or shared services to create efficiencies and greater equity. “I know that’s difficult in a state that touts and prides itself on local control,” he said.
Robert Scherrer, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, emphasized leveraging community partnerships and out-of-school-time providers to knit together a support structure for students and families and increase their engagement.